View of the Valle Grande from the top of Pajarito Mountain May 8 during Blake Wood’s 67-mile run. Photo by Blake Wood
BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
Blake Wood, Los Alamos National Laboratory retiree and accomplished ultra-runner, spoke September 8 at the Rotary Club of Los Alamos. As Wood told Rotarians, he has been fascinated for a long time “by Dorothy Hoard’s 2009 proposal for a trail which runs the geologic rim of the Valles Caldera.” Hoard, a local author and historian and founder of Friends of Bandelier, passed away in 2014. In early May, Wood ran a 67-mile approximation of her proposed route in 25 hours.
Beginning with an introduction about the geology of the Valles Caldera, Wood described the string of volcanic features, the collapse of the volcano into a crater upon eruption, and the following formation of peaks and lakes. The Valles Caldera National Preserve, Wood remarked, is “National Park quality terrain at our doorstep.”
With detailed maps and beautiful photographs, Wood explained the route for his May 8 Valles Caldera rim run. At 6 a.m. Wood set off from Pajarito Mountain and began in a clockwise direction. Wife Rebecca Clark met him at five different places along the route to provide light snacks, including homemade banana bread, and friendly company on his solitary outing. Wood had already left caches of water along the route and carried a map and GPS with him.
Wood described parts of the trail as extremely rugged. Mountain bike trails that had once offered reasonable passage were burned in the 2011 Las Conchas fire, leaving fallen trees and debris in the path. As night fell, he donned his head lamp to enhance the trail already brightened by moonlight just three days past full. Wood commented that he enjoys running at night. On this particular run, as temperatures dipped, he mentioned the “crunch of frost” under his feet. He only encountered a few deer along the way; coyotes howled in the distance.
At one point he mistook a trail for the designated route, inadvertently cutting off about eight miles of the intended route. In June, and in daylight, he returned with fellow runner Tom Stockton and ran it. If he had followed this route in May, Wood estimated the rim run would have been closer to 75 miles and 28 hours.
Wood, who retired from LANL 2016, holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of California-Berkeley and was a research and development scientist and program manager in LANL’s X-Theoretical Design Division. For more than 20 years, he has served as an assistant coach for the Los Alamos High School Cross Country and Track and Field teams and helps organize the Jemez Mountains Trail Runs.
To learn about the Valles Caldera, Wood recommends Fraser Goff’s book, Valles Caldera: A Geologic History available at PEEC Nature Center. For information about visiting the Valles Caldera National Preserve, please go to https://www.nps.gov/vall/